Editor in Kashmir Is Arrested Amid Intensifying Clampdown
NEW DELHI — The editor of a news website has been arrested in Kashmir, in what critics called the latest example of a wave of harassment of journalists by the authorities in the troubled region.
The editor, Fahad Shah of The Kashmir Walla, was arrested on Friday after being summoned by the police, said Yashraj Sharma, a colleague. He had been called in for questioning four days earlier over the site’s coverage of a deadly police raid in late January, Mr. Sharma said.
That raid, in the Pulwama district, left four people dead. The police described three of them as militants and the fourth, a 17-year-old, as a “hybrid militant.” The Kashmir Walla interviewed the teenager’s family, who said he was an innocent civilian and appealed to the government to return his body. The news website’s article also included the perspectives of the police and the army.
The Kashmir police, in a statement on Friday, said that they had arrested Mr. Shah for “uploading anti-national content” and that he was still in their custody.
Mr. Shah’s arrest showed the Kashmir authorities’ “utter disregard for press freedom and the fundamental right of journalists to report freely and safely,” said Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Authorities must immediately release Shah, and all other journalists behind bars, and cease detaining and harassing journalists for simply doing their jobs,” he said.
The Indian security forces have tightened their grip on Kashmir since Prime Minister Narendra Modi dissolved the region’s elected government in 2019 and brought it under direct rule from Delhi, with a heavier military presence.
Increasingly, journalists and activists critical of the security forces have been called in for questioning, and several have been detained. In November, the police arrested Khurram Parvez, a prominent activist who has extensively documented abuses of civilians carried out by the Indian authorities, as well as by militant groups active in Kashmir.
United Nations human rights experts have expressed concern about Mr. Parvez, who is still being held under a stringent antiterrorism law. They said his detention appeared to be “retaliation for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender.”
Last month, the police arrested Sajad Gul, another Kashmiri journalist and a contributor to The Kashmir Walla, over social media posts that they considered objectionable. Mr. Gul was granted bail on Jan. 15, but the police filed another case and continued his detention.
The authorities have also effectively closed down Kashmir’s press club, a base of support for journalists, forcing it out of the government-owned building where it had been operating. That came after a murky election dispute within the club, during which police officers helped one faction take physical control of the building.
The authorities later said that the club had ceased to exist, and that they had reclaimed the site to avoid a “potential law-and-order situation.”
“Space for media freedom and active civil society has been steadily eroding in the region,” the Editors Guild of India said in a statement after the club was closed. “In a state ridden with such excesses against media, Kashmir Press Club was an important institution for fighting for protection and rights of journalists.”
Besides running The Kashmir Walla, a decade-old outlet that employs about a dozen journalists, Mr. Shah has contributed to international publications like The Nation, Time and Foreign Policy. In a statement, D.D. Guttenplan, the editor of The Nation, condemned the arrest and said “we stand unequivocally in support of Fahad Shah.”
Violence and harassment by the police, political groups and criminal gangs make India “one of world’s most dangerous countries for journalists,” according to Reporters Without Borders. The organization ranked India 142nd out of 180 countries in its 2021 press freedom index, expressing particular concern about worsening conditions for reporters in Kashmir.